Oklahoma Right to Work Law Goes Back to State Supreme Court

Ironically arguing that the state of Oklahoma cannot protect the right to join a union, union lawyers have successfully stalled a final decision as to whether Oklahoma’s popular Right to Work constitutional amendment will be upheld.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit – based in Denver – has ruled that the provision in Oklahoma’s Right to Work Law that protects the right to join a union is also preempted by the NLRA (which already protects that very right), and thus can only be enforced as to public employees in the state. The State Supreme Court must now decide whether the preempted provisions of the law are severable from the core of the law, which establishes the right of employees not to join or financially support an unwanted union.

In September 2001, Oklahoma voters enacted State Question 695, making Oklahoma the nation’s twenty-second Right to Work state. The Right to Work constitutional amendment bans the widespread union practice of forcing workers to join an unwanted union or pay union dues as a condition of employment.  In November 2001, the Oklahoma AFL-CIO, six local unions, and a heavily unionized company filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma to overturn the amendment. The U.S. District Court ruled favorably on motions submitted by Governor Frank Keating’s legal team and attorneys for the National Right to Work Foundation, who represented three Oklahoma workers in defending the law.

The District Court held that, as in other states, the Right to Work law cannot be enforced with regard to employees covered by the Railway Labor Act (RLA) or employees of the federal government. But the law clearly and constitutionally protects employees who work for private companies under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).   [NRTWLDF, 4/29/03]